The show got me during its final moments when the young people on the stage said to the audience ‘you have a choice.’ I was enjoying four young people’s portrayal freedom riders in the US; riding the buses to protest against segregation. Part of me, however, wanted to hear another story: that of British segregation. It wasn’t taught to me at school and still appears not to be. I only know it exists because of narrated life stories. It’s a bit like the feeling I get when Black History Month comes around… my first question is always why? Not in the sense that it is a bad idea, but growing up in a multi-cultural society and having friends from a diverse range of countries and backgrounds, out with and inside the UK, I want to know why our History curriculum is not reflective of our society.
The play reminded me of Mr Maxwell, the teacher with the cheeky opinions who pushed the boundaries of history. He asked the big questions. We got inside the poems of Maya Angelou and the conditions of the slave ships and asked why it happened in the first place. Mr Maxwell challenged us to see that history, the history in the class text, was one version amongst many. History was remembered how it was written.
Plays like Rise Up give me hope because they open up dialogue for people to speak, listen, and reflect. Not necessarily in the theatre but retelling the aspects of the play they connected with to other things and ask those big questions such as ‘why isn’t our history curriculum reflective of our diverse social background as a country?’ Hoping that someone better positioned than I hears this message and challenges the curriculum to change. At the heart of all theatre is the hope of social change.